For Young Learners
Often apps designed for children seem dull and overly simple to adult observers, but developing an instinct for what fascinates very young minds is precisely what determines whether these products, which have now established themselves as a genre that deserves to be taken seriously, are successful or not.
Small Teams Lead the Way
While many of the larger children’s book publishers are still working out their online strategy, smaller teams have set about adding a new medium to the means by which children can discover the world. But how do grown-up designers and developers come up with product concepts aimed at children – ones that have to work on relatively new devices to boot, not to mention be commercially successful in order to recoup the outlay involved in developing them? Tinybop, a small firm based in Brooklyn, New York, is currently working on an Explorer’s Library, a digital encyclopaedia that follows the principle of its traditional print cousins but applies it to the medium of touchscreen devices. Following on from the huge success of The Human Body, which is now used to explain and demonstrate via animated processes human physiology to pupils at more than 20,000 schools, the latest volume to be added to this steadily expanding library is Plants, an interactive diorama that allows children to discover the animal and plant kingdoms in various states. Tinybop believes children are “born explorers” and aims to “inspire their interest in the world around them.” Founder Raul Gutierrez grew up with the popular science publications of the 1970s and 80s, which aimed to explain complicated content via elaborate multilayered illustrations, and was fascinated by them – as he was by the skeleton model and the human skull with its brain that could be taken apart and put back together again. For children, such books often open the door to all kinds of wonders and contain within their oldfashioned scientific illustrations stories that adults are unable to discern. Now these captivating drawings of animals and the human body, embellished with captions that are beyond the comprehension of children, have helped shape and inform the ideas behind Tinybop’s apps, even if the latter might initially seem to have little in common with those stuffy old books. Gutierrez first conducted a thorough survey of the existing games in Apple’s App Store but was disappointed by what was available. Neither their design nor their pedagogical approach met his expectations. As far as he could see, there was no reason why the beloved books and drawings of his childhood could not be translated into a high-quality product for the iPad. The Explorer’s Library is a charming, contemporary interpretation of the kind of dioramas that have been around for decades, one made all the more interesting to children by the fact that the physiological processes are visualized in an appealing fashion, with numerous things that move and light up and various parts that can be slid in and out and placed on top of each other. The addition of such a large element of play can surely only aid a child’s learning.
Where Abstract Artists and Russian
Composers Work for Children
Many miles away from Brooklyn is another innovative firm developing apps for youngsters. The Moscow-based team at Bubl aim to create apps for young children that stimulate children’s imagination via contrasts and sound effects. “Small children need strong contrasts. They also want to tap everything and expect an instant reaction. At this age, they don’t need a specific goal,” says Bubl CEO Oleg Stavitsky. He believes it’s important to open up new realms of play that don’t exist in the real world. There are thus coloured lines that users can tap in order to product different sounds and melodies and talking ice scoops that can be piled on top of one another – it’s a world where geometric forms meet contemporary music. These abstract interactive games capture and stimulate children’s imaginations and encourage creative thinking. In fact, with a design that is positively artistic, Bubl’s apps could easily pass for a gallery installation. The creative team includes Dmitry Evgrafov, an up-and-coming composer, and Protey Temen, an artist who is already well known in Russia. This helps to explain the artistic quality and the perfectionism that can be seen in every detail of Bubl’s apps. When asked about his inspirations, Stavitsky mentions Brian Eno’s Scape, another app that uses shapes to create sonic spaces. In contrast to Tinybop, Bubl’s success is based not on the adaptation of traditional children’s books but on a creative and a very loose interpretation of complex products that were developed for adults but that can be broken down into basic child-friendly elements.
An Antidote to the World of Multicoloured Plastic
The creators of these children’s apps are often designers and developers with a strong belief in usability as well as an exacting approach to sound, form and colour. In future, there will doubtless be other captivating applications for children that meet the aesthetic standards of design-loving parents. After all, only the parents know their App Store password (one would hope); it is they, therefore, who determine whether iPad apps for children are successful or not.
Mickael Brock is the publisher of Astronaut Magazine, an independent digital title for the iPad. Since its inception, Astronaut has also evolved into a creative studio, developing interdisciplinary communications strategies for clients, as well as planning and executing concepts for digital projects. He and his team are currently working on the implementation of the children’s app Fin und Lou – Little World, which will launch in late summer 2014.